- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Lung cancer
- Heart disease
Surprised? Heart disease actually kills nine times more women -- 371,000 versus 40,000-each year. In fact, heart disease kills more women annually than all cancers combined (260,000).
Compared with men, women who suffer heart attacks are more likely to have another or to die from them. The first symptoms of heart disease tend to appear 10 years later in women (at about the age of 45) than in men. "Many physicians underdiagnose coronary artery disease in women, even when women report the same symptoms as men," says Legato.
Another problem is that about 20 percent of women with heart disease don't exhibit the classic symptom of pain under the breast bone that radiates to the left arm or the jaw. "They experience upper-abdominal pain, nausea and shortness of breath," says Legato. "This is the reason they are sometimes sent out of emergency rooms with Valium for their 'hyperventilation' and antacids for their 'indigestion' instead of receiving the correct diagnosis."
Even when women do experience chest pain, "It's not always the crushing pain men typically report," says Patrice Nickens, M.D., director of cardiovascular medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the NIH. "Women are more likely to feel intermittent chest pain that's fairly tolerable. As a result, they're less likely to seek medical care and less likely to be treated within a few hours of a heart attack, when treatment is most likely to be lifesaving."
Fortunately, many cases of heart disease can be prevented. What does it take? Not smoking, exercising more and eating less saturated fat, for starters. You should also control your weight and stress levels, and be sure to get cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar checked regularly. (High blood sugar can signal diabetes, which significantly hikes heart disease risk.)
Note: Heart attacks are most likely to occur in postmenopausal women, when a drop in the hormone estrogen is thought to increase risk. If you experience any persistent chest or upper abdominal discomfort and shortness of breath, see a physician immediately.
Symptoms of heart attacks may also include sweating, unexplained anxiety, and radiating pain in the jaw or down one arm.